We’re not here to discuss politics, but one of the big stories today is the Obama administration’s development of plans to require that backdoors be placed on Internet-based communication services, allowing for compliance to federal wiretap orders.
The bill, slated for 2011, would require communication service providers to have the capability to intercept and decrypt messages. The proposal, as related to the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which requires telecom providers to provide interception capabilities for law enforcement, is an extension into the realm of the Internet. In the New York Times article on the bill, FBI’s Valerie Caproni said:
We’re not talking expanding authority. We’re talking about preserving our ability to execute our existing authority in order to protect the public safety and national security.
But does “public safety and national security” come at the cost of personal and enterprise security? Extending interception capabilities to the Internet could prove disastrous if not executed correctly. Computer science professor at Columbia University Steven Bellovin thinks “it’s a disaster waiting to happen. If they start building in all these back doors, they will be exploited.” Just like in 2005, he cites, when “hackers [took] advantage of a legally mandated wiretap function to spy on top officials’ phones, including the prime minister’s.”
On the flipside, there may be side-effects to adding to the already overwhelming honey-do lists of enterprise IT. Former Sun Microsystems engineer Susan Landau worries that the mandate would hinder the progress of small startups. Engineers would be dedicated to incorporating wiretapping capabilities rather than innovation and product release dates.
Federal response to the privacy community’s uproar is hardly comforting: Service providers would be the sole carriers of the decryption capabilities, for which the agency would need a court order to utilize. Ira Winkler, president of the Internet Security Advisors Group told Computerworld that his main concern isn’t the “government’s ability to intercept communications for legitimate law enforcement purposes, the real concern should be over continued compromise of personal data online.”